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Alan Jones, Radio 2UE, Sydney, 9 February 1998: transcript of interview [Forces to the Gulf]

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JONES: Well it appears that tomorrow Federal Cabinet and Prime Minister Howard will formally commit Australia to support any United States attack on Iraq and to declare that President Saddam Hussein cannot be allowed to retain and use chemical and biological weapons. A couple of points before I speak to the Prime Minister.

The first that should be said, is that America and its allies will continue to explore every diplomatic initiative available to them. So this is not going to happen tomorrow. However, Prime Minister Howard was right at the weekend when he said, "the sort of capacity and the sort of weapons he shouldn't have, have the potential for the most awesome and dreadful affect". Mr Howard said, "we have to consider a whole range of contributions it is not a purely military contribution."

The Defence Department has been ordered to prepare a submission for Tuesday's Cabinet meeting. We sent two frigates and a supply vessel to the Gulf in 1991 but none were directly involved in the conflict. But we are talking about an arsenal of weapons being marshalled by Saddam with the capacity to wipe out the world's population twice over. And United Nations inspection teams have been locked out. So this is not an American ego trip, it is a United Nations repudiation by Saddam Hussein. United Nations inspection teams have been unable to account for 4,000 tonnes of chemical warfare materials and more than 600 tonnes of materials for making nerve acts. And inspite of every diplomatic effort United Nations inspection teams have been locked out of Iraq. Now what President Clinton is doing is seeking support for a course of action in case diplomacy doesn't work. Hence, Mr Clinton called John Howard at the weekend at Kirribilli House after securing the support from British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Our Prime Minister, John Howard is on the line. Prime Minister good morning.

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning Alan.

JONES: Rather belatedly but Happy New Year to you.

PRIME MINISTER: And to you to.

JONES: And it is going to be a tough year ahead. In this Mr Clinton spoke to you for about 20 minutes what was the general thrust of that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well he gave me a background to the American efforts. He said how they wanted to keep trying to get a diplomatic solution, they didn't want to use force. However, they were faced with the terrible prospect that Saddam would not allow UN-sponsored inspections of facilities that were clearly believed to house chemical and biological war material. Now as you said in your introduction, if a stand and a firm and uncompromising stand is not taken against the storage and potential proliferation of this material the consequences into the next century is to awful too contemplate.

We cannot allow, the civilised world cannot allow rogue states who have no sense of international morality to have possession and therefore the capacity to use that kind of material. Now that is what is at stake and therefore there is a clear Australian national interest, there is a world security interest involved in this, it is not Clinton vs Saddam Hussein, it is the interests of the civilised world against somebody who has demonstrated an utterly amoral approach to his own population. He is the only person in my living memory who has used such foul material against his own people and he has demonstrated an utter indifference to the elementary basics, the elements of basic human values for his own population. So there is a lot at stake.

Now the Americans are trying to get a diplomatic solution, so are we. And we will go on doing that and it is not beyond hope that at the last moment he may blink. Now that is something that I discussed with the President, he doesn't rule it out, and he will try very hard to achieve that. But at the end of the day he said that some kind of military action could be necessary and he asked whether Australia would consider making a contribution and I said, we would certainly consider that and we will talk about it tomorrow.

JONES: It was reported, talking about blinking, you have used that image there, it was reported at the weekend from the Middle East that Iraqi army commanders would rebel against Saddam Hussein if they were convinced an attack by the United States, Britain and others was aimed at removing him from power.

PRIME MINISTER: Well that is always possible, although that has been talked about for years and it has never happened.

JONES: One wonders though whether his own people aren't getting tired of it?

PRIME MINISTER: Well one has to wonder about that. And one would hope that they are and that somehow or other that there would be that kind of reaction. But in the past when that has been predicted it hasn't materialised.

JONES: No, but he did call at the weekend for a million volunteers for a civilian force.

PRIME MINISTER: Yes he did.

JONES: And reports from Iraq say that those calls were being ignored?

PRIME MINISTER: Well all of that is mildly encouraging and I hope it has an impact even on him. And I repeat, we don't want force used unless it is the only alternative, we really don't.

JONES: So what are you meeting for tomorrow with your Cabinet to decide should the circumstances arise what would be the extent of our involvement, is that it?

PRIME MINISTER: That is the intention, yes.

JONES: And you have briefed Mr Beazley?

PRIME MINISTER: I rang Mr Beazley on Saturday evening after I had had the call from President Clinton and I told him of it. And I told him that he would be kept fully informed. That not only would I ensure that the Opposition was fully briefed, I will make the service people available for the Opposition to be fully briefed and on top of that I will keep the Australian public regularly informed. The Australian public is entitled to know quickly and fully from me what is occurring on the issue because there is no more serious decision that any government takes than to contemplate the use of Australian assets and Australian military personnel in some kind of military action. And therefore the public is entitled to be fully informed.

We have already had, at a senior Minister level, discussions with our defence advisers. We will have a fully Cabinet meeting tomorrow, it is only Cabinet that can authorise this kind of action and I will be saying something more to the Australian people naturally after that Cabinet meeting.

JONES: Good on you. Good to talk to you and thank you for your time.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks Alan.